By Ifeanyi Nwoko
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons ( NAPTIP ) is seeking an agreement between Nigeria and neighbouring West African countries to end the practice of Nigerian girls being used as sex slaves in Mali.
At a presentation to the ECOWAS Parliament during its First Ordinary Session on Saturday, NAPTIP Director-General Julie Okah-Donli told members of parliament that Nigerian girls were being sold for between N210,000 and N240,000 to work as prostitutes.
Presenting the report of the fact-finding mission to Mali, Okah-Donli said that after being sold, the girls were made to pay back between N1.08 million and N1.2 million, usually within eight months, to their madams.
She said that after gaining their freedom from their madams, the girls would then go into business, making money for themselves through prostitutions before graduating to madams of their own.
“There are more than one million Nigerians residing in Mali. About 20,000 of these Nigerians are girls believed to be victims of trafficking and the number increases by 50 per day.
“Many victims are deceived to leave their livelihoods in Nigeria for greener pastures in ‘Mali.
“Some of the victims are abducted from Nigeria, including those that arrive in school uniforms.
“On arrival at the border townbetween Burkina Faso and Mali, many of the girls are sold off for CFA 350,000 to 400,000; their new owners then make them pay back about CFA 1.6 million to CFA 2 million with one CFA being 0.6 Naira,” she said.
Okah-Donli said that as part of efforts to curb the trend, the mission recommended among other things, that Nigeria should develop a Memorandum of Understanding ( MoU) with Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin Republic, Guinea and Senegal.
The mission further recommended that all motor-parks through which the girls were trafficked should be sanitised and efforts made to stop extortion of Nigerians travelling to or through the aforementioned countries, she said.
“There is need for comprehensive sensitisation of rescued victims before repatriation and a comprehensive blueprint worked out for tracing, empowerment and rehabilitation of victims,” Okah-Donli said.
She said NAPTIP was ready to give technical support to Mali if it sought to establish an anti-human trafficking agency.
For the ECOWAS Parliament, the mission recommended that the protocol on Free Movement of persons and goods be properly implemented such that other nationals are not harassed in other ECOWAS countries, the director-general said.
Throwing more light on the findings of the mission, Okah-Donli said that efforts to repatriate girls were usually foiled through the complicity of Malian security forces, coupled with the willingness of many girls to return to the ‘sex-for-gold’ trade.
She said that there were some of the girls who were trafficked to the northern parts of Mali where they not only offered sex but were radicalized.
She said that many of the victims who were rescued in 2011 and some others in 2017, came back to Nigeria only to return with more girls.
The director-general further said some of the sex slaves were made to sleep with numerous men without protection while also being made to pay huge taxes by the complicit Malian authorities.
She raised the alarm that there was now a growing possibility of xenophobic attacks as Malian women were already grumbling that Nigerians were taking their men.
“The Malian authorities collect taxes from the victims on a weekly basis and sell condoms and other medications compulsorily to their victims every month.
“Malian women are already grumbling that Nigerian girls are taking their men, and there are fears of imminent xenophobic attacks.
“Three Nigerian girls were killed between November and December 2018,’’ Okah-Donli said.
She said that efforts to stop the trade at the borders had not been encouraged by border security as they had not made efforts to arrest the traffickers in spite of all information given to them.
“The border point between Nigeria and Seme-Krake and Burma Fas/Mali are notoriously porous, and despite numerous reports and pictures of traffickers sent to law enforcement agencies at the borders, no arrests or rescues have been made.
“The traffic madams are well known to the Nigerian community but they are afraid to report them because of the complicity of the Malian security agencies in human trafficking, especially the gendarmerie who assist the traffickers to carry out their activities.
“Nigerian victims are way-billed from a motor-park in Cotonou, dropped at Sikasso near the border with Burkina Faso, from where they are picked by Malian gendarmerie for delivery to their madams,” she said.
The director-general added that the Nigerian sex slaves lived in about 300 settlements in Malian bushes, with each settlement holding 100 to 150 girls.
The girls, aged between 16 and over 30, hang around bars and night clubs to display for their clients who take them into their huts made of polythene, Okah-Donli said.
As part of effort to curb the menace, she said the team met with the Ministry of Justice in Mali to find solution to the menace.
She said that the Malian Justice Ministry had called on NAPTIP to come up with an MoU that would provide a proper framework to end the trafficking and repatriate those already trafficked.